Excerpt: Bhagini Nivedita, The Master As I Saw Him

The summer of 1898 stands out in my”
memory as a series of pictures, painted like
old altar-pieces, against a golden back-
ground of religious ardour and simplicity,
and all alike glorified by the presence of one who, to us in his immediate circle, formed
their central point. We were a party of four
Western women, one of whom was Mrs,
Ole Bull of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and another a member of the higher official world of Anglo-Indian Calcutta.

But it was not only the great cities
of admitted beauty and historical importance,
that the Swami, in his eagerness, would
strive to impress on our memory. Perhaps nowhere did his love seem more ardent,
or his absorption more intense, than as we passed across the long stretches of the Plains, covered with fields and farms and villages. Here his thought was free to brood over the land as a whole, and he would spend hours explaining the communal system of agricul- ture, or describing the daily life of the farm housewife, with such details as that of the pot-du-feu of mixed grains left boiling all night, for the morning porridge. It was the memory, doubtless, of his own days as a wanderer, that so brightened his eyes and thrilled in his voice, as he told us these
For I have heard it said sadhus by
things that there is no hospitality in India like that of the humble peasant home.

True the mistress has no better bedding to offer than straw, no better shelter than an outhouse built of mud. But it is she who steals in at the last moment, before she goes to rest herself amongst her sleeping household, to place a tooth-brush twig and a bowl of milk where the guest will find them, on waking in the morning, that he may go forth from beneath her roof comforted and refreshed.

It would seem sometimes as if the Swami lived and moved and had his very being in the sense of his country’s past. His historic consciousness was extraordinarily developed. Thus, as we journeyed across the Terai, in the hot hours of an afternoon near the be- ginning of the rains, we were made to feel that this was the very earth on which had passed the youth and renunciation of Buddha.

The wild peacocks spoke to us of Rajputana and her ballad lore. An occasional elephant
was the text for tales of ancient battles, and the story of an India that was never defeated, so long as she could oppose to the tide of conquest the military walls of these living artillery…It was as we passed into the Punjab, Rowever, that we caught our deepest glimpse of the Master’s love of his own land.

one who had seen him here, would have supposed him to have been born in the pro- vince, so intensely had he identified himself with it. It would seem that he had been
deeply bound to the people there by many
ties of love and reverence had received ;
much and given much ; for there were some amongst them who urged that they found in him a rare mixture of ‘Guru Nanak and Guru Govind,” their first teacher and their last.
Even the most suspicious amongst them trusted him. And if they refused to credit
his judgment, or endorse his outflowing sympathy, in regard to those Europeans whom he had made his own, he, it may have been, loved the wayward hearts all the more for their inflexible condemnation and incorruptible sternness. His American disciples were already familiar with his picture that called to his own face a dreamy delight, of the Punjabi maiden at her spinning wheel,listening to its “Sivoham! Sivoham! I am He! I am He!” Yet at the same time, I must not forget to tell that it was here, on entering the Punjab, even as, near the end of his life, he is said to have done again at Benares, that he called to
him the Mussulman vendor of sweetmeats, and bought and ate from his hand Moham- medan food.

As we went through some village, he would point out to us those strings of mari-
golds above the door, that distinguished the Hindu homes. Again he would show us the pure golden tint of skin, so different from
the pink and white of the European ideal, that constitutes the ‘fairness’ admired by the Indianraces. Or as one drove beside him a tonga, he would forget all, in that tale of which he never wearied, of Siva, the Great God, silent, remote upon the mountains, ask- ing nothing of men but solitude, and ”lost in one eternal meditation.’

Paintings by Nandalal Bose

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